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Learning for Life – It’s Essential

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You can teach an old dog some new tricks – including how to play the violin, losing a fear of acetylene torches or writing a book the right way.

On Tuesdays, I go to my metal working class, and I’m really excited. Twisting wire into various wearable art forms is my new hobby. Truth be told, it’s actually more a consuming passion than mere pastime – ask my husband, who has seen our home transformed into work stations where I cut, pound, and bend. Where I used to veg out and watch TV, I now sit in front of it with my container of scraps and twist my castoffs into needed components, while my husband roots for Phil Mickelson.

There are organizers I fill with beads and stones, metal and findings. I purchased a huge jewelry tumbler and adopted the husband’s Dremel. After absconding with most of his tools, I finally began to purchase the “real” deal from the local jewelers' supply. I paid a king’s ransom for a planishing hammer, but I can now tell the difference between the metal I forged with that tool and the cheap ball peen I bought from Home Depot.

The last few weeks, I’ve been playing with an acetylene torch. I’m afraid of fire – who wouldn’t be? – and it took a long, long, long while before I was comfortable standing near it. I’m still uneasy when igniting the torch, but once that hurdle is overcome, I’m off to the races. I could solder all night long. Copper, silver, wire, bezels, bring it on! I suppose it is too much to ask for a torch for Christmas?

I love to learn, and this is the latest in a long line of educational pursuits. Five years ago, I took up the violin. It’s an instrument I’d long wanted to play. Even though in the past I tinkered about with the piano and guitar, I had never learned to read notes. My entire impetus for learning the instrument when I did (besides my son leaving for college and taking his piano music with him) was to wrap my puny brain around the black dots on the page.

I had impressed a musical education upon my kids, realizing there were studies that showed people who could play music often did better in math and spatial reasoning. If music could increase the brain power of children, it should do something for adults. Even if the positive effects were minimal, I was going to learn how to read music if it took me the rest of my life, dammit.

It didn’t take quite that long. I’m no talented five-year-old churning out Paganini Caprices and my vibrato leaves much to be desired, but I finally feel competent enough to sight-read the unknown. And, I have learned a skill where a few dulcet tones emerge from the screeching.

I take online writing classes; I have joined a local critique group. You can’t learn much by plugging away on your own. Sure, there are plenty of reference materials out there, both online and in bookstores, but I’m a tactile person and tend to do much better when my ideas have a chance to bounce off some impartial third parties. In the world of real education, someone has to want the knowledge and the other party who has it wants to impart it.

Perhaps my fervor is intense because I truly loved school growing up. Vacations and summers off were unwanted down times away from learning opportunities. Unfortunately, I had to drop out of college after two years. It had something to do with wanting to eat and keeping myself from homelessness. If I had unlimited funds, I’d still be there now. Yes, I know. I am rounding the bend into my second half-century. So what?

Just because a person is a certain age, has a job, spouse or responsibilities doesn’t mean the learning stops. In fact, keeping the mind mentally stimulated aids in the retention of memory.

It doesn't have to be much, it doesn't even have to be a huge commitment of time. It can be as difficult as learning the table of elements or as easy as making chicken soup. Pick something. Study it. Get inside it. If you fail, try again. Sometimes learning comes easy, but for the most part, it's hard work, with grand rewards.

Think of learning as brain fitness, and learn something new every day.

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About Joanne Huspek

I write. I read. I garden. I cook. I eat. And I love to talk about all of the above.